Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Shyrman the Wyrman: Backyardigans vs. Arcadian Dreams

Children's Programming (note the capital P) is as infectious as the darling little carpet sharks themselves. I myself now know the complete themes and catchphrases of more kids' shows than I care to admit (we're not big TV watchers in our house, but it is part of the daily ritual to appreciate the Blinky Light Box for a little while. Mmm, Blinky Light Box).

In my AD "Book of Shadows", where I keep records of all the designs I've attempted, I'd simply entitled one of my pieces Wyrm, since he was a little dragon beastie without wings or legs... but that was not enough. No, he needed a proper name!

Now, my son's (arguably) favorite show is The Backyardigans, where there is a small and squirmy little-used side character named Sherman the Worman (the cultural music of the Wormans, incidentally, is Polka... make of that what you will). So when I turned to my husband and asked him what the Wyrm's name should be... he coined "Wyrman?". No, not quite. Shyrman the Wyrman!

And thus, the Backyardigans have infected the sanctity of my metalwork. Good thing I never took myself too seriously, anyway. :)

Shyrman the Wyrman pendant. Sterling, garnet.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The origins of Arcadian Dreams, Parte the Seconde

So, Arcadian!

The beliefs and lore and etymology surrounding this word could be spun out into a skein long enough to knit the next Doctor's scarf. We don't have time for that, so I will keep it shortish and hopefully nobody will feel they have to clean the erasers after class.

Arcadia is a paradox; it was an isolated region in ancient Greece reknowned for peaceful pastoral scenes... but also was reputed to be the primary seat of Pan worship. Goats! Sheep! Orgies! Pipes, hooves, horns! The juxtaposition of utter tranquility next to the purest savagery and wildness appeals to me on a fundamental level.

My art is like that. I can't for the life of me produce anything pretty. It is all wild and twisted and fierce in some way; my roses all have thorns, my flowers all look vaguely tentacular and most of my animals have a dangerous gleam in their eyes... even the hedgehogs. So, as you can imagine, the cheerful dissonance of Pan's Arcadia suits me just fine.

As for the unicorn motif... in my world, unicorns are more goatlike than horselike, so that's my tip of the hat to Ol' Goatface packaged in a good-business-don't-offend-the-straights sort of way. With the deepest respect intended, of course. :)

Monday, January 19, 2009

In The Business Of Doing Business (or, Why Be Afraid Of Professionalism?)

To paraphrase an oft-maligned talking Barbie of days gone by, "Business is hard!". Except it isn't. Business boils down to supply and demand, really. See? Easy.

The problem enters in when we, as craftspeople, assume that we can simply make things, list them on a sale site and Bob's Yer Uncle, we're in business. The difficulty with that is it's only one half of the equation -- the supply. Without demand, you're a fish without a bicycle.

The business model I draw from is somewhere between LUSH and BPAL, both luxury item companies who have cleverly convinced thousands and thousands of people that their very pricey smelly stuff is an absolute necessity. I have seen grown, responsible women get behind on their car payments to have the next limited edition item. It's a little different for me, being jewellery, but the principles are the same!

So, without further ado... How To Create Demand.

1. Be The Cool Kid. What group has the most disposable income for small luxury items? 16 - 40. So when you are crafting, keep in mind that your stuff should be desireable to that group. I'm certainly not suggesting you sell your soul to the sparkly Twilight fanclub demons just to make some money, but keeping an eye on the trends is a really good idea simply so you can tweak your sales pitch in that direction.

You don't have to change your craft, just change how you are presenting it. LUSH does this all the time, taking hot pop-culture references and using them to name or market their products, and it works. Use the hot-button words to make your pieces show up in searches, too... using Twilight as an example, is it wrong to name a piece "Bella" at coincidentally the exact time people are using "Bella" as a search term for jewellery? No, it's not wrong. It's smart marketing.

2. Make Items Limited and/or Collectible. We are a covetous bunch of shaved monkeys, aren't we? Nearly all of us collect things, acquiring one of a series only to immediately turn around and focus on grabbing the next. In terms of things that are limited, as well, one only has to observe last-minute bidding wars on eBay that go far over what the item is actually worth to see that when people may miss out on something, they can get a little, um, intense with their spending.

Planned, periodic release of special limited items whets a buyer's appetite and allows you to charge much more than you could for "regular" released items. Consider having seasonal or holiday limited editions of things, particularly ones with design continuity, to take advantage of the human instinct to get-it-before-it's-gone.

3. Sell The Dream. It's great to sell the physical characteristics of your pieces, but a comprehensive list of techniques and materials will be lost on most of your buyers. No, you want to sell them a feeling. A lifestyle. A dream. Will these earrings make them feel like Cleopatra on a barge, floating down the balmy Nile? A vivacious flapper about to sneak into her first speakeasy? A powerful Grecian goddess contemplating taking a mortal lover? Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is a virtuoso at this... she has built her business on blending essential oils together and using descriptions, images and quotations to convince women that wearing that blend will turn them into fantastic otherworldly seductresses far removed from the mundane world. Brava to her!

Figure out how your customers want to feel, want to see themselves as an ideal, and sell them that illusion. Remember that scene in "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" at the fair when the girl was trying on all the fabulous paste jewellery? "Who d'you think you are, the Queen of Sheba?" Well, for that brief moment in time... she was. And she felt good.

Don't just sell the metal. Sell the mood.

4. Advertise.... Intelligently. I make mythological fantasy jewellery, sometimes interspersed with pieces drawn from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, and their ilk. There are some advertising venues that simply aren't appropriate for me... super-modern or Christian venues spring to mind (not condemning either, just being realistic).

I am better served to ask the question, "Who buys mythological jewellery?". Ren Faire people. Roleplayers. Pagans. Horror writer fan sites.... you see where I am going with this. I am best served to go there, where my customer base is, than to advertise willy-nilly and expect my customers to come to me.

5. Use Your Environment. This is a big rule for Ninja, too. Pay attention to holidays; is it near Prom? Valentine's Day? Mother's Day? Many people feel social pressure to buy people gifts on holidays, and jewellery is one of the most popular gifts for such occasions. A gentle reminder in your descriptions or your shop announcement is sometimes all it takes to tip the customer from waffling to spending.

Good businesses are dynamic and responsive to the current economic and social climate -- so keep your eyes and ears open and don't be afraid to use the tools at your disposal. It's okay to be an artist but also be successful and professional! <3 <3 <3 to you all.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

So You Want To Marry A Mermaid?

Mermaids. Nixies. Merrow. Sirens. Rusalka. Sea Nymphs. Almost every culture has their version of watery women whose irresistible embrace proves detrimental to the poor fisherman who happens to fall in love with one.

Sometimes, the seduction (and pursuant fatality) is deliberate. Odysseus' Sirens fall squarely into that category. That type I highly recommend avoiding, for obvious reasons, but I have found they are in the minority. No, most mermaids can't help that they drive men to madness, destitution or drink... it's just their nature.

There are, however, a few simple tips for understanding and avoiding these potential pitfalls if you've found yourself in the position of falling in love with one of these fishy femmes fatales. You poor bastard.

7 Simple Rules For Dating A Water Nymph:

1. Give her things. Shiny things. Things that smell nice when added to baths. Mirrors and jewellery and small tasty edibles. Even insofar as your average landbound lady likes gifts, they are essential to the care of the mermaid in your life.

2. Never raise your hand or your voice to her in anger. Harsh words wound her as deeply as a knife edge, and mermaids never, ever forget a slight (a trait they have in common with most of the Fair Folk).

If you do happen to harm her in this way, you must treat the wound seriously, apologize sincerely, and patch her up as quickly and as effectively as you can; otherwise, the damage to her heart may never fully heal and she will grow more and more distant and resentful of you.

3. Be prepared to weather the tempests. "Moody" is not a sufficient word to describe the giddy highs and black melancholies of a merrow. Emotions can shift in a moment, from glass to gale, with no warning and seemingly no reason. The trick is to ride out the storm, be calm and gentle and loving, and trust that it will end... eventually... and she will be back to the adoring fey creature you fell in love with.

4. Accept that she will hurt you deeply without meaning to, and that you will hurt her deeply without meaning to. Even the nicest, sweetest nixie does not fully understand or share your human concepts of what is cruel and what is not. She will hurt you with her words and her silences and her moods and her absences. It is not personal and you must not take it personally.

Conversely, you will say and do things that to you seem harmless but reduce her to angry tears; in this case, as with rule #2, treat the wound with love even if you don't understand why she is so hurt. The important thing is that she really is that hurt, and needs you.

5. Speaking of absences -- and this is probably the most important rule -- you can never truly possess a mermaid. She will never be yours, really, not in any accepted human sense. Even if you do marry and have a happy family, you must understand that she could leave it behind with a flick of her tail and then come back months (or years) later and act as though nothing had changed.

This is usually the hardest thing for a mortal man to accept... that his merwife can love him deeply but still require time away from him in her own element. Many men have tried to cage or chain their sea-maids, and while it may work for a time she always eventually slips his grasp and leaves him heartbroken. No, your best option (and it takes a man of great courage and strength to do this) is to accept her need for space, open the door, and leave the light on for when she comes back.... which, if she truly loves you and you have given her her freedom, she will. She just needs to be herself for awhile.

6. If you have been so foolish as to attempt a union with a mermaid and treated her badly or tried to confine her, and she has left you, you will forever be a broken man. Accept this fact. She will take your heart with her back to her home and you will never heal from her loss.

Many men, having lost their water nymph, dissolve into alcoholism or other escapes. Others simply kill themselves. I cannot overstate the impact losing a mermaid-wife will have on you... so if you do not intend to follow the rules, do not even attempt the union. It will destroy you. For all of their odd moods and frustrations and sensitivities, when you have experienced the innocent pure love of a nymph, mortal women will never measure up. Beware.

7. This rule comes from the lips of a man who himself has endured... I mean, enjoyed... the love of a merlady and has had a (mostly) successful relationship with her for years. His advice for anyone smitten with the scales is simply to believe in her -- really, honestly believe in her. Take her needs seriously, support her in her dreams and always keep in mind that she is a special creature. Never forget that, for if you falter and begin to treat her like a normal mortal woman, everything will be lost. It sounds simple, but it is not.


In closing, unions with watery women are difficult, stormy, frustrating and potentially dangerous to one's own sanity. So why would anyone ever try it?

Ah, if you ask that question... you've never looked into the eyes of a mermaid, have you? Lucky.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Nose, meet grindstone. Grindstone, meet nose. Learn to love each other!

So I have finally received my long-awaited casting order. It isn't complete -- they forgot to cast enough of a few things so back the molds go tomorrow -- but it means that there are 60-odd frosty white pieces sitting on my bench, waiting to be cleaned up like baby birds waiting to be fed. Peep peep!

I am completely out of sheet stock and do not have the money to place another order... so it's creative thinking time here at Arcadian Dreams (who am I kidding, it's always creative thinking time here ;) ). I do have enough cuttlefish to cast a sheet ingot if I am very careful about thickness, and since what I need the sheet for will be textured anyway the rippled effect is not a problem...

Difficulty: My sniffer is feeling very sensitive today. Some people get bitchy with their PMS... not me, noooo! I get the big, teary-eyed, sob-at-phone-commercials moogliness and my sense of smell becomes so acute I can guess with fair accuracy when the person on the bus next to me had their last bath... so I may have to leave the cuttlefish for another day.

It's not like I don't have enough castings to keep me busy... until June. ;)

ALSO: Did you know... that if you leave your wet tumbled pieces in the steel strainer overnight, rust will go all over your silver pieces! File under: BUGGER BUGGER BUGGER.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Hooves, horns and hagiology: The origins of Arcadian Dreams, part I

Gather 'round the fireplace, welcome guests, and I will spin you a tale of macaroni and mythology.

I was blessed with the certainty from a very young age that I wanted to make jewellery; while my peers were still scratching their pre-beards and debating their futures, I was steadfastly threading gold spray-painted macaroni on yarn and tying it around my poor, sweet dog's neck (he was a Schipperke, and a very cranky one at that, but he tolerated my haberdashery with the kind of martyred patience only very good dogs have).

But not just any jewellery! No no! Specifically, I wanted to make jewellery for princes and princesses, Kings and Queens; jewellery that would be found in a Dragon's hoard or a leprechaun's treasure chest; necklaces and haircombs for mermaids and nixies of all sorts. I wanted to make things that the Grimms and Edith Hamilton both would approve of.

Over the next few years, I collected all the old costume jewellery I could beg from family and family friends, taking it apart and restringing it or cannibalizing the components for completely new things. I did my first craft show when I was 13 (I made $80 after the show fees, which blew my little mind with the expansive lucre! Eighty whole dollars!) and decided that this was definitely the life for me. I even chose my business name and "mascot" then... and Arcadian Dreams with its wee unicorn was born.

Next installment: But what the heck does "Arcadian Dreams" mean? (Hint: It really has nothing to do with Street Fighter and pinball machines... honest. :) )